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Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl — Dickie V, Tampa teams and Patriots celebrate

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It would be hard to argue against the sports calendar year Los Angeles had, but Tampa, Florida, is making a case.

The Lakers and Dodgers won championships in the fall, but Tampa now has the Super Bowl with the hometown Buccaneers representing the NFC. This comes after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup and the Rays won the American League before losing to the Dodgers in the World Series.

The Bucs are the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium and return to the Super Bowl after a 12-year drought, the second-longest drought in NFL history.

This is also an excellent civic development for Tampa mayor Jane Castor. She took office in May, 2019, and has seen all her city’s teams make championship runs.

Castor might be the mayor, but Tampa’s biggest fan is undoubtedly ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. He tweeted about his anxiety early in the game:

But Dickie V was overjoyed when the Bucs won:

Vitale was joined by the Rays and Lightning.

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady is playing in his fourth Super Bowl in five seasons. In Brady’s historic career, he joins Kurt Warner, Craig Morton and Peyton Manning as the only QBs to represent two teams in the Super Bowl. Brady and Morton are the only QBs to play for both an AFC and NFC team. Brady’s latest Super Bowl trip brought out more celebrations, including cheers from former New England Patriots teammates.



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Alex Smith says his return put ‘wrench’ into Washington Football Team’s plans at QB

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Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith said his comeback threw a “wrench” into the team’s plans this season and that he didn’t feel wanted by the organization this summer.

Smith, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, told GQ Magazine that he surprised the organization by being able to play.

“They didn’t see it, didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to be a part of it, didn’t want me to be on the team, the roster, didn’t want to give me a chance,” Smith told the magazine. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability.

“Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”

Smith’s words call into question his desire to remain with the organization and how much frustration he still harbors. Washington is open to retaining Smith and building up more of the offense, but the team is also exploring other options at quarterback because of the question of whether Smith can remain healthy for a full season.

Smith has a $24.4 million cap hit and Washington would save $13.8 million if it released him.

“We’re still in a situation where we are looking at all of our options,” coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month.

Smith has not said for certain that he’s going to return, but sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he wanted to continue playing. And Smith’s own words in multiple interviews strongly suggest that’s the case. He and Rivera had multiple conversations earlier this month, although neither has said much about them.

“I got more left,” Smith said in the GQ interview. “I got more to get there, too. So I really do really wanna get in the meat of this offseason and see where I’m at and push it. I want to push my body harder. I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond. At some point, I’m obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation, and do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we’ll see.”

The team declined to respond to Smith’s comments.

In training camp, Rivera said he was going by what doctors told him about Smith’s recovery. Also, Washington was entering what it thought was going to be a rebuilding year and a 35-year-old quarterback in Smith’s situation, coming off a broken right tibia and fibula, did not mesh with trying to plan for the future. Rivera inherited a 3-13 team and wanted to see if second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins could develop into a long-term starter.

Washington wanted to place Smith on injured reserve before final cuts, which would have ended his season. That week, Smith and Rivera had a long meeting, and then Smith met the next day with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner to convince them he should be on the roster.

The doubts were widespread. Smith admitted there was a “very small group” of people that thought he could do this. Multiple sources in the organization said after watching his documentary on ESPN that they didn’t think a doctor would clear him for contact.

Smith opened camp on the physically unable to perform list, although his personal doctors had cleared him to return. One of those doctors, Robin West, serves as Washington’s head orthopedist.

Slowly, their minds changed. Smith stayed on the PUP list until Aug. 16 as he was showing coaches that he was no longer injured and simply needed to test himself on the field. Still, there were sources close to him at the time who also wondered if Smith would be able to play — or to what level. His injury left him with drop foot, which cause his foot to drag at times. It also required special orthotics in his cleats.

Washington gradually had him do more in practices, but did not put him in 11-on-11 full-padded workouts until late in training camp — after he pressed the coaches to give him a chance.

“I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” Smith told GQ. “I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, f— that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can. So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years.”

Smith was the No. 3 quarterback for the first four games but was elevated to No. 2 when Rivera benched Dwayne Haskins. Smith returned to the field after Kyle Allen suffered a concussion against the Los Angeles Rams and was sacked six times. Allen suffered a season-ending ankle injury three weeks later against the New York Giants, forcing Smith into the starting lineup the next week against the Detroit Lions.

Washington went 5-1 in games started by Smith. His stats were modest — he threw five touchdowns to five interceptions as a starter. It was six and eight, respectively, overall. But his impact was evident to a young team in need of on-field guidance. Smith was a near unanimous pick as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith suffered a bone bruise on Dec. 13 and played only one more game, a division-title clinching win over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale. He lobbied hard to play in the wild-card playoff game against Tampa Bay, but Rivera opted for Taylor Heinicke, fearing that Smith’s lack of mobility with the lingering leg issue would result in problems vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ defense.

Whatever the coaches felt about Smith in August, their thoughts evolved as the season unfolded.

“When you see what Alex has gone through and just his desire and drive to get back and the joy and thrill he gets from playing, it’s been very inspirational for me to watch him,” Rivera said in December.

He also praised Smith’s leadership.

“There’s an intangible that some guys have and possess,” Rivera said. “Alex has it. Can it be replaced? Well, you’re going to have to find a guy that has those same types of intangibles. Those guys are special. They only come around every once in a while.”

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Texans’ roster dominoes waiting to fall: J.J. Watt’s departure just the beginning – Houston Texans Blog

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HOUSTON — Despite the offseason conversation surrounding the Houston Texans mostly centered on quarterback Deshaun Watson, there are other big decisions that new general manager Nick Caserio has in front of him.

Last week, the NFL announced the 2021 salary cap will be no lower than $180 million, which is a drop from the $198.2 million cap in 2020. After granting J.J. Watt’s request to be released — and freeing up $17.5 million — the Texans’ total cap liabilities are close to $190 million.

Watt’s release was the first domino to fall this offseason for the Texans, but what other challenges does Caserio face going into his first free agency in Houston?

Will the Texans re-sign wide receiver Will Fuller V?

Through 11 games in 2020, it looked like Fuller was well on his way to proving he could not only stay healthy for a full season, but keep up his production and chemistry with Watson while doing so.

And then in November, Fuller was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, meaning those questions about his durability are still unanswered. Fuller will also miss the first game of the 2021 season under the suspension.

In the 11 games he did play in, Fuller had 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns.

While Fuller was in line to sign a new deal averaging around $15 million a season, it seems more likely the receiver will sign a one-year, prove-it deal, especially in a season where the salary cap will decrease.

The Texans could also choose to use the franchise tag on Fuller, which would cost $16.4 million for the 2021 season if the sides do not agree to a long-term deal. While the team is still over the $180 million cap minimum, there are moves Caserio could make to fit Fuller’s salary.

Watson made it clear — even after Fuller’s suspension — that it was “very important” to him that the team re-signs Fuller. Now that Watson has requested a trade, could bringing Fuller back be a step toward mending the team’s relationship with the quarterback? Perhaps, but given the reasons Watson is upset, it’s hard to see that roster move being enough — at least on its own — to convince Watson to change his mind.

Will Houston do anything with wide receiver Brandin Cooks‘ contract?

Cooks was a bright spot for the Texans in 2020 after trading for him in April. Despite playing for his fourth team in five seasons, Cooks had 81 catches for 1,105 yards — the fifth time in his seven-year career he has surpassed 1,000 yards in a season.

If the Texans do not re-sign Fuller, Cooks gives Houston a solid No. 1 receiver. Cooks said in January that he wants to keep playing with Watson and isn’t “going to accept any more trades.” But if Watson is traded, will Cooks still want to be in Houston?

Cooks has three years left on his contract, but none of it is guaranteed. He is owed $12 million in 2021, but Houston could lower his cap hit either by signing him to an extension that guarantees his salary or restructuring his current contract to move the money to a signing bonus and freeing up cap space that way.

Will the Texans cut running back David Johnson?

Johnson currently has a cap hit of nearly $9 million in 2021, but just $2.1 million of it is guaranteed.

Bill O’Brien traded for Johnson as part of the deal that sent receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, but the former general manager and head coach was fired just four games into the season. Johnson ran for 691 yards and six touchdowns and the Texans’ rushing offense ranked last in Football Outsiders’ Rush DVOA.

It would be hard to see the Texans keeping Johnson on his current contract, but if they don’t want to move on, they could try to restructure his deal to match his salary with his production. Houston does have backup running back Duke Johnson under contract in 2021, but with a cap hit of more than $5 million, the team could move on from him as well.

Any other moves?

Although Watt was the most logical candidate to release on the defensive side of the ball, there is another player who may make sense to move on from: inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

McKinney signed a five-year, $50 million contract in 2018 and his base salary isn’t guaranteed. If Houston moved on from him, it would save more than $6 million with just $1.5 million of dead money. Last offseason, the Texans signed inside linebacker Zach Cunningham to a four-year, $58 million contract that makes the pair combine for more than 10.5% of the Texans’ total cap in 2021.

McKinney played in only four games last season before needing shoulder surgery and in that short sample size, he had a Pro Football Focus grade of 53.4, lower than his 67.7 grade in 2019.

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Nick Sirianni’s first coaching staff with Eagles has boom or bust potential – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

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PHILADELPHIA — With the Carson Wentz saga taking up most of the oxygen in the Philadelphia Eagles‘ office, the coaching staff has become something of an afterthought.

But it’s a pretty big deal. First-time head coach Nick Sirianni, 39, has assembled a generally young group with some boom or bust potential, adding risk and intrigue to his mission of replacing Super Bowl winning coach Doug Pederson and getting a flailing Eagles team that finished 4-11-1 last season back on track.

Here are the primary coordinators/position coaches, followed by some analysis.

Jonathan Gannon (Age: 37), defensive coordinator

Shane Steichen (35), offensive coordinator

Michael Clay (29), special teams coordinator

Kevin Patullo (39), passing game coordinator

Jeff Stoutland (59), run game coordinator/offensive line

Brian Johnson (34), quarterbacks

Jemal Singleton (45), running backs/assistant head coach

Jason Michael (42), tight ends

Aaron Moorehead (40), wide receivers

Nick Rallis (27), linebackers

Tracy Rocker (54), defensive line

Dennard Wilson (38), defensive backs

A collection of first-timers

The average age for head coaches and coordinators for the 2020 season was 49 years old. The youngest staff was the San Francisco 49ers at 38 years. Sirianni and his top lieutenants are south of that with an average age of 35.

The Eagles clearly went after up-and-coming coaches with innovative ideas who could grow on the job. But the lack of experience is concerning. Sirianni has never been a head coach or called plays before. Two of his top assistants, Gannon and Clay, have never been coordinators at any level, while Steichen was an O-coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers for a season-plus.

A common thought was Sirianni would surround himself with some veteran coaches to help him navigate his role. He could still hire a senior advisor with prior NFL head-coaching experience to assist him, but as it stands, this is largely the green leading the green.

The most intriguing hire

Brian Johnson served as the University of Florida’s quarterbacks coach the past three seasons and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2020, becoming the first African American in team history to hold that title. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask became a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season under his tutelage. Before that, Johnson helped maximize the potential of quarterback Dak Prescott at Mississippi State.

Johnson played under Jalen Hurts‘ father, Averion, at Baytown Lee High School in Texas, and has known Jalen since he was 4 years old. He later recruited Jalen to play at Mississippi State before Hurts ultimately chose Alabama. The level of trust presumably built over time should be beneficial as the tandem works toward further developing Hurts.

Keeping ‘Stout’

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has a long track record of getting the most out of his players, but 2020 might have been his finest work. The Eagles finished tied for 10th in pass block win rate and second in run block win rate last season despite a rash of injuries that forced Philadelphia to use a record 13 different offensive line combinations over the first 14 games.

There was speculation Stoutland would rejoin coach Nick Saban at Alabama following the firing of Pederson, but he remains under contract in Philadelphia and will continue in the role he has had since 2013 when former coach Chip Kelly first hired him. Of all the staff moves, none were more important than retaining Stoutland.

Analytically speaking …

One notable coach moving on is Ryan Paganetti, the Dartmouth graduate who was the primary voice in Pederson’s ear in-game for analytical-based decisions. The Eagles became trend-setters in the football analytics realm. In Pederson and Paganetti’s five years together in Philly, the Eagles went for it on fourth down 140 times, by far the most in the NFL (the Giants were next at 111). The Eagles were far and away the leaders in two-point conversion tries over that span as well with 41.

There is no clear successor to Paganetti in place at the moment. It’s a safe bet, though, that analytics will continue to influence game-day decisions. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is a huge proponent of the practice, as is former Eagles coach Frank Reich, who served as Sirianni’s mentor in Indianapolis.

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